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Q: The news about the Texas mother who killed her five children and is said to have been suffering from postpartum depression is very disturbing. I'm about to have my first baby and I can't imagine such a thing. What is postpartum depression and how likely am I to suffer from it?
A: This recent tragedy seems to involve a very severe--and rare--case of postpartum depression (PPD). Although 50 to 75 percent of new moms have some feelings of melancholy in the first weeks after birth (often called the "baby blues"), only about one in 10 new moms experience real postpartum depression or anxiety. The difference: PPD lasts longer than the baby blues, is more intense and often requires counseling or treatment. The most severe form of PPD--what experts believe the woman in Texas was suffering from--is called postpartum psychosis.
PPD may occur within the first weeks or up to a year following childbirth. The symptoms include fatigue, helplessness, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbances, fear of losing control, feeling overwhelmed, lack of interest in the baby, and even fears of harming the baby and/or yourself.
PPD is often triggered by hormonal changes after birth. Women who have a personal or family history of depression may be more at risk.
The best way to prevent postpartum depression from getting out of control is to be aware and educated about the symptoms and to seek treatment. Treatment options can include therapy, medication, family education and support groups. The good news: Most symptoms are temporary and treatable.
If you do suffer from PPD you won't be alone. Actress Jerry Hall battled it after the birth of her last baby and model Rachel Hunter had it with her first. Princess Diana suffered from PPD as did singer Marie Osmond, who wrote a book detailing how she coped with her depression.
But remember: Not all post-baby blues are PPD. Pregnancy and childbirth result in a wide range of emotions and leave your hormones in flux. Along with the excitement and joy come normal feelings of anxiety and worry. But if you begin to experience any of the symptoms of PPD, talk to your doctor right away. The prognosis is excellent if treated early.
Depression After Delivery (DAD) This non-profit organization provides support for women with postpartum depression. The group focuses on education, information and referrals for women and their families coping with mental health issues associated with childbearing--both during pregnancy and postpartum.
Postpartum Support International This site offers a support network, information center and research guide for postpartum mood disorders and depression. You can find a support organization for moms, dad and families in your area. There are also chat rooms, links and a bookstore of related materials.
Online support group This is an online support group for mothers suffering from postpartum depression, as well as their families. The site is filled with helpful information on the symptoms and cures, advice and personal stories. Moms can join chatrooms or find therapists who specialize in this area. Especially helpful is the section of frequently asked questions and their answers written by mothers who have suffered from PPD. Questions include: What factors do you believe led to your PPD birthing experience? How did you deal with your symptoms? Did you go to therapy and did it help? Did you take medication? What books have helped you?
Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression By Marie Osmond The famous singer and TV personality shares how she overcame the fear and darkness of her depression, and in collaboration with her doctor, offers the methods she learned for treating PPD.
This Isn't What I Expected : Overcoming Postpartum Depression By Karen Kleiman and Valerie Davis Raskin In this book, two doctors offer compassionate advice for women who suffer from postpartum depression. They discuss the range of postpartum mood disorders and provide information on the medical and therapy treatment options. There's a helpful chapter for fathers, too.
Bethany Kandel is the mother of two sons and the author of The Expert Parent: Everything You Need to Know From All the Experts in the Know (Pocket Books). Every week she will answer selected e-mails and help you find the answers to your parenting questions.
E-mail your questions to The Expert Parent at firstname.lastname@example.org